Understanding the behaviour of consumers in relation to purchasing products and services, is one of the most important parts of marketing psychology.
Information about people's buying behaviours may be derived from social psychology, research on motivation, emotions and perceptions.
Although needs and wants are significant factors in understanding consumer behaviour, there are many other theories and principles which can be taken from the field of psychology and applied to marketing.
Consider Gestalt Principles of Perception
The following principles are taken from Gestalt theory which was a prominent movement in psychology in the 1930s. Gestalt regards behaviour and psychological processes as a whole i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It holds that, if you separate out the different parts which make up the whole and analyse them individually, this is not going to help explain the whole. If you want to understand what attracts consumers to buy a particular brand of soap, for example, then the Gestalt Principle would urge you to consider the whole process of bathing rather than just the product itself.
When it comes to advertising, the Gestalt Principles of Perception, also known as the Laws of Grouping, attempt to explain how we give meanings to simple visual stimuli. There are a number of main principles.
1) Principle of Similarity
This refers to the fact that when we observe an object or design, if there is too much information then our brains tend to organise that information so that we can understand it better. To do this the brain often organises elements into groups which are similar in terms of visual content. So, for instance, we might see groups of similar items based on some observable feature. The main ways we tend to group visual items is through size, shape and colour.
When applying the principle of similarity we are grouping similar items together because they seem to belong together. However, we only tend to do this if the following principles are not applicable.
2) Principle of Proximity
This suggests that those elements of a composition which are close together may be seen as group even if they are not especially similar. That is, we see closely positioned items as being more closely related to one another. Proximity may reinforce similarity among items or it may oppose similarity.
3) Principle of Closure
This works on the idea that we would much rather see closed figures than ones which are fragmented or have unconnected lines. Therefore, our brains will tend to fill in any blank spaces or missing parts of an image.
This is considered to be the strongest of the Gestalt principles and it can override the others. If you imagine observing a square drawn using a dotted line, your brain will automatically work out that the image is of a square in light of the blank sections. Whilst simple shapes may be most easily recognised we also use closure to complete complex shapes - particularly if they are of familiar items or objects.
When applied to design, closure can enable the observer feel more involved with the design through taking an active rather than passive role.
4) Principle of Good Gestalt
This implies that we have a preference for observing figures which are well rounded or symmetrical rather than ones which are less structured or messy. Although we might develop an appreciation of abstract art and images our natural tendency is to want to see well-defined images.
These first four principles are the chief Gestalt principles and the remainder follow on from them.
5) Law of Symmetry
This law states that the mind tends to perceive objects and images as symmetrical and having a central point or axis. It is more pleasing for us to separate images and objects into an even number of symmetrical parts. If we see two symmetrical elements which are not connected then we automatically connect them so that they form a more meaningful shape.
It follows that when we see groups of objects which are similar in size, shape or colour we are more likely to group them so that we see a symmetrical overall object.
6) Law of Common Fate
This suggests that we perceive objects as moving along the smoothest path. In other words, we visualise a path which the object is on and which it moves along. When we view objects we group them together according to whether they are perceived to have the same line of movement.
7) Law of Continuity
This implies that we tend to perceive parts of objects as groups which form perceptual wholes if they are aligned within the object. If two or more objects intersect or overlap we will still see them as a single whole object so long as the parts or elements within the objects are aligned and there are no abrupt changes in direction.
8) Law of Past Experience
This law suggests that we sometimes use our past experiences to help us to categorise visual stimuli. This may be applied to reading written language. For example, the law of proximity would suggest that similar letters would be perceived together as a group. When we read an unfamiliar word we don't use the law of closure to join the letters together but we use past experience to perceive the letters as separate entities.
The Iceberg Principle
This principle suggests that a great deal of consumer buying behaviour goes on beneath the surface - much as only around 10% of an iceberg is visible above the surface. That is, a consumer's decision to buy a product is influenced by reasoning from deep inside their consciousness. If, as a merchandiser, you attempt to ask the consumer why questions about their purchasing behaviour they are probably not going to know exactly why they bought it. Therefore, it is better to acknowledge that some elements of an individual's motivation to buy are too difficult to explain clearly. If the iceberg principle is accepted then it avoids the need to ask why questions.
The Dynamic Principle
This principle states that our motivations are always changing in response to financial, social and psychological factors. For instance, if consumer questionnaires focus on an individual's current income they may be missing the fact that it is more or less than it was last year. It is more appropriate in understanding consumer behaviour to gain an insight into how an individual's income has changed. If their income is the same as it was in the past year then again this will influence their consumer behaviour differently to if it has increased or decreased.
As consumers achieve their goals they form new goals - but if they are unable to achieve their goals they will continue to pursue their original goals, or they may form alternative ones.